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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

Where to Pick Local, Sustainably Grown Fruits

Oct 02, 2014 04:05AM ● By Eileen Weber

Brisk, sunny days and colorful leaves mean fall festivities. Lots of families enjoy picking their own fruit at nearby farms. Fortunately for Connecticut residents, there are plenty in our area to choose from. According to the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, the state is home to 87 farms with pick-your-own acres. Eight of them are in Fairfield County, ten are in Litchfield County, and nine are in New Haven County. Of those 27 pick-your-own (PYO) farms, about half of them offer such fall favorites as apples and pears. 

Many of these are not just family-owned but multigenerational farms. Averill Farm (AverillFarm.com) in Washington Depot has its tenth generation working the orchards. Lyman Orchards (LymanOrchards.com) in Middlefield has been family owned and operated since 1741 while Shelton’s Beardsley Cider Mill & Orchards (BeardsleysCiderMill.com) has been in the same family since 1849. 

Drazen Orchards (Drazen
Orchards.com
) in Cheshire is also trying to keep that tradition going. Lisa Drazen is the property manager and her brother Eli is the “orchardist,” as she terms it. Although her father, David, bought the farm in 1951, it has been a working farm since the 1800s. They now grow apples, pears, nectarines, peaches and plums. They even have quince, which not many farms grow. The pears are good for picking in September, but the apple season will go through October. 

“My family lives on the orchard,” said Lisa Drazen. “It’s my backyard. It’s where I play. We would never do anything detrimental to it. We love the land.” Loving the land means caring for it responsibly and planting the fruit trees was only a part of the overall farm plan. David Drazen was an early promoter of integrated pest management (IPM) and he convinced surrounding farms to join him in his efforts. 

What this means is that, while they may spray for insects, they do so only as necessary. Conventional farms spray on a regular basis with a seasonal schedule in mind. With IPM, the farm will spray based solely on what “bad bugs” they find. 

IPM accepts the fact that we live on the same planet with millions of insects. Every bug has its purpose. The concept of good bugs versus bad bugs is relative. IPM’s goal is essentially positive reinforcement. If you create an environment that is conducive to bugs that are beneficial to your crops like honeybees or butterflies, then those bugs will frequent your farm. But that doesn’t mean you won’t have to spray pesticides occasionally. Farms that use IPM are not necessarily organic. Organic farms that utilize IPM do everything the other farms do, they just don’t spray synthetic chemicals. 

IPM, along with sustainable growing practices, is how Lyman Orchards cultivates fruit for their Eco-Apple and Eco-Peach programs. Their distribution through Red Tomato (RedTomato.org), a non-profit organization that promotes sustainable farming practices and fair trade, is hyper-local to area stores so that the vine-to-consumer ratio is as tight as possible by not shipping long distances and increasing their carbon footprint.

With their IPM practices, John Lyman III, executive vice president at Lyman Orchards, said that part of the protocol involves restricted materials to use and a rating process from a third-party organization that gives them a seal of approval. “There is a ‘Do Not Use’ list of pesticides,” he said. “We don’t use any organophosphates.” Organophosphates are the basis for many pesticides. The Environmental Protection Agency lists this agent as “toxic to bees, wildlife and humans.”

Wayne Young of High Hill Orchards (HighHillOrchard.info) in Meriden also uses IPM for his orchard. He says using that method plus organic fertilizing and other ecological practices make for a healthy plant so the trees can withstand disease. 

However, sometimes pesticides are a necessary evil. “I use organic pesticides,” Young said. “If they don’t work, then I’ll resort to conventional pesticides. Some of the organic materials just don’t work for some diseases.” Susan Averill at Averill Farm agrees. She said they use IPM but sometimes the organic methods aren’t effective. “Here on the east coast, there are certain pests that are not well-controlled using only organic methods,” she explained. “We only spray the main orchard when it is necessary, so every apple isn’t perfect!” 

Last year, Averill Farm had a bumper crop of apples along with the pears they have for picking. But this year, with the late bloom after a never-ending winter, the farm’s yield is smaller. It is best to call ahead to your farm of choice for picking availability. There are a few farms that have actually cancelled their apple picking this year.

“The crop is quite light this year,” said Averill. “Probably a combination of having had a bumper crop last season along with cold and very windy conditions over the winter caused many of the buds to dry up and not turn into flowers.”

Keith Bishop, co-CEO, treasurer and winemaker at Bishop Orchards, echoed Averill’s point. Raspberries, blueberries and peaches did very well this summer. But the fall crop for apples is a little shy this season. “Our crop this year is slightly smaller because of two very good crop years the preceding two years,” he reported. “That said, we do have a very good supply for pick your own apples.” 

While visiting a PYO farm is a fun activity, the benefits of these farms are more than recreational. According to a 2010 study conducted by the The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Connecticut, PYO farms bring jobs, producing approximately 20,000 positions statewide. The bucolic scenery of Connecticut’s farms boosts annual tourism. From a land stewardship perspective, these farms are an entire eco-system that “acts as a natural filter” for surface and subsurface water through cropland, woodlands and wetlands. They also provide natural habitats for other wildlife beyond what may or may not be raised on the land.

When planning a pick-your-own excursion, there are a couple expectations. Parents should closely watch their children, especially when they are small. While the outdoors is a lovely place to walk the family pet, they are not allowed on a majority of the state’s farms. Considered a health risk, the Department of Agriculture mandates that pets not enter the orchard area. 

To find a PYO farm near you, there are several comprehensive websites that list farms by county. Visit Pick Your Own at PickYourOwn.org or Local Harvest at LocalHarvest.com.

Eileen Weber is a Fairfield-based freelance writer and contributor to Natural Awakenings Fairfield County.


CT Guide to Picking Your Own

Here is a list by county of some of the pick-your-own (PYO) farms in Connecticut with fall crops. It may be best to call ahead due to weather or seasonal crop yield. Some of the farms offer wagon and hay rides while others also have cut-your-own Christmas trees. Check websites for details.

FAIRFIELD COUNTY

Beardsley’s Cider Mill & Orchard
278 Leavensworth Rd (Rt 110), Shelton
203-926-1098
BeardsleysCiderMill.com
Sustainable farming methods. PYO apples. Open 10am-5pm, weekends only. Store open until 5:30pm daily offering bakery items, maple syrup, local honey and cider.

Blue Jay Orchards
125 Plumtrees Rd, Bethel
203-748-0119
BlueJayOrchardsCT.com
PYO apples and pumpkins. Farm stand open daily 9am-5pm offering bakery items, jams and jellies, cider and cider donuts.

LITCHFIELD COUNTY
Averill Farm
250 Calhoun St, Washington Depot
860-868-2777
AverillFarm.com
Tenth generation farm using solar power as energy source. Organic practices and IPM. PYO apples and pears. Open daily 9:30am-5:30pm.

Ellsworth Hill Orchard and Berry Farm
461 Cornwall Bridge Rd (Route 4), Sharon
860-364-0025
EllsworthFarm.com
Picking season runs from June through November, starting with berries. Fall crops include apples, pears and pumpkins. Open Sunday through Friday 9am-5:30pm and Saturday 9am-5pm.

March Farm
160 Munger Ln, Bethlehem
203-266-7721
MarchFarm.com
PYO fruits with apples in fall. CSA programs available. Open daily 10am-6pm.

Starberry Farm
81 Kielwasser Rd, Washington Depot
860-868-2863
PYO runs from June through September, with apples as their fall crop. Also have apricots, plums, pears, and nectarines. Open weekdays 10am-12pm, 1-4pm in the fall.

Tonn’s Orchard
270 Preston Rd, Terryville
​860-585-1372
PYO season runs August through October, weekends only 10am-5pm. Peaches and plums with apples as their fall crop.

NEW HAVEN COUNTY
Bishop’s Orchards
1355 Boston Post Rd, Guilford
203-453-2338
BishopsOrchards.com
Sustainable farming practices and IPM. Six generations have farmed since its small beginnings in 1871. Farm market, winery and online ordering available. Over 100 acres devoted just to apples. Picking based on weather; call their picking hotline at 203-458-7425.

Drazen Orchards
251 Wallingford Rd, Cheshire
203-272-7985
DrazenOrchards.com
Sustainable farming practices and IPM. PYO apples, peaches, plums and pears. Open daily 9am–6pm. Picnic tables available near the picking area.

Hickory Hill Orchards
351 South Meriden Rd, Cheshire
203-272-3824
HickoryHillOrchards.com
Open daily August through November. Picking hours are 9:30am-5pm. Apples, pears, peaches and nectarines are available. Country store has fruit, baked goods, cheese, honey, chocolates, maple syrup, jams and jellies. School groups can arrange picking tours.

Norton Brothers Fruit Farm
466 Academy Rd, Cheshire
203-272-8418
NortonBrothersFruitFarm.com
Seventh generation family farm since the mid-1700s. June through November picking season . Picking season starts with blueberries and raspberries in the summer with apples and pears in the fall. Open Monday through Friday 8am-6pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am-5pm.

MIDDLESEX COUNTY
Gotta’s Farm
661 Glastonbury Tpke (Rt 17), Portland
860-342-1844
GottasFarm.com
Fourth generation farm since 1898. Also have a farm market on Route 66. Open Monday through Friday 8am – 6:30pm, Saturday and Sunday 8am – 6pm.

Lyman Orchards
32 Reeds Gap Rd, Middlefield
860-349-1793
LymanOrchards.com
Eighth generation farm since 1741. Sustainable farming practices and IPM. June through October picking season. Berries in the summer and apples, peaches, nectarines, pears and pumpkins in the fall. Huge farm market. Hosts golf outings and wedding events. Eco-apples and Eco-peaches. For picking availability, call their hotline at 860-349-6015.

Scott’s Connecticut Valley Orchards
274 Kelsey Hill Rd, Deep River
860-526-9633
ScottsFarms.com
Over 25 varieties of apples to pick starting in late August until mid-October. Call ahead for picking availability.

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